Carne Asada and a Side of Jihad?

This past Tuesday, United States law enforcement announced that they had foiled a plot by the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US  in Washington, DC. Unsurprisingly, this news generated headlines across the globe. This has all the makings of a Tom Clancy novel – a foreign government, let alone Iran, contemplated a political assassination on American soil. Yet, this is not the most bizarre part of the story. The United States alleges that the Iranian government planned to outsource the hit to the Zeta drug cartel, a powerful corporate syndicate operating in northern Mexico with connections in the American Southwest. Indeed, it seems that the assassination plot was part of a larger deal to traffic Costco-sized quantities of opium into the US. In fact, one of the suspects was arrested in Corpus Christi, Texas which is just hours from the Mexican border. While the connection between the Middle East and Latin America is old news (a camaraderie based on the shared resentment of American “hegemony” and the penchant for trafficking illicit drugs), what stands out in Iran’s most recent assassination attempt is how it represents a larger pattern of cooperation, both official and illicit, between the Middle East and Latin America. The rise of the ‘multipolar’ world order is typically viewed in the context of declining American influence in overseas foreign relations. However, as this nightmarish episode has shown, the global network has importance implications that hit closer to home.

Since the Monroe Doctrine’s global declaration in 1823, the United States has rejected, as a matter of policy, all attempts of foreign interventionism occurring on our side of the Atlantic. However, today’s new global age has facilitated Latin American governments’ growing power on the international stage, including extra-governmental organizations like the Zetas.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the US to control the activity happening in our own backyard. This is an age of new alliances and new political blocs. Latin America, for all of its problems, is riding a wave of economic prosperity – translating into an increased Latin American awareness of its own power and interests in the new interconnected world order.

Latin American attention toward the Middle East is budding. Whether it is Hugo Chavez’s personal request to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to rescue American hikers in Iran or Brazilian President Lula de Silva’s chummy relationship with Turkish Premier Erdogan to create new Middle East nuclear policy, there is no doubt that there is a growing partnership between state and non-state actors in the Middle East and Latin America.

Where does that leave us? The Iranian assassination plot has eradicated previous misconceptions on its status as a rational actor. But beyond that, the scheme substantiated a long-standing fear: Latin American drug gangs and Islamic terrorists joining forces. With a porous Mexican border that couldn’t stop a stampede of rabid elephants as well as Iran’s well-organized infiltration attempt, the ramifications of this partnership are frightening.  As the ties between these two disparate regions show little signs of disappearing, we must reevaluate America’s Latin American policy to accommodate a broader global context. If not, we risk falling victim to future attacks such as the one Tuesday.